As Bioware has yet to return my shoes to me, I shall highlight how much even a single extra word said in the right setting, by the right person, can completely change how a story (or ending) is percieved. So the ending is not going to change? That doesn't imply the theory wasn't true before.
It's possible to do this. I'll go through how to perform the one-word-reveal in steps. First I'll describe the working theory of it. Then I'll go over how I pulled that off two or three years ago. Finally I'll give an example of what Bioware could do to pull off the same thing or what they did do.
At the end I'll show how Bioware can change the interpertation the pre-existing ending with a single word of spoken dialogue. Then how they could do the same thing in real-life with simliar effects.
[As a disclaimer I should say I do make games that feature highly interactive stories as well. Also there are spoilers in my game Fading Hearts just so that people can verify for themselves what I'm saying. Also MAJOR SPOILERS for Mass Effect 3]
Setting Up the One-Word-Reveal
It does take planning from the beginning to pull something like this off. You must decide on a somewhat flawed "cover story" and the "real story." The trick is to make the "cover story" as easy to accept as the truth as possible, while making the "real story" definately proveable within the facts of the player's knowledge.
So every plotpoint/event/clue/hint that affects or involves either of these two stories must do one of the following:
- Holds true in the "cover story" and the "real story"
- Combined with other clues disproves the "cover story" and definately proves the "real story"
I should also mention that there's is a whole special case of spoken dialogue where lies (or worse, a character's misconceptions) can exist. But that's for a completely different article.
Part of the skill of a writer for these stories is how well can they hide clues that fall into the #2 point. How well can you make those important clues be in the most obvious places that players spend a lot of time in and has seen constantly or widely available?
One-Word-Reveal Setup Examples Full of Spoilers
For my game these were the Manga that the player can read as well as the dreams/visions the main character experiences. For Mass Effect 3, they had those dream sequences as well the codex entries. Their use is similar strangely enough.
The "Extra" Material
The Manga and the Mass Effect codex are very much likely to be thought of as simple side extras that can safely be ignored as "not that important". For any writer these palaces are hard to resist as a place to hide clues. Let take a look at a few examples.
In my game, you learned magic spells from reading about them in the in-game manga books. Somewhat strange at first, till you realize the mechanics described in the manga is reflected and has practical applications in the RPG battle mechanics. Which begs the question, why is there so much useful information in these manga stories?
And where the major clues for the "Indoctrination" theory in the codex? Under Indoctrination of course. You can notice some of these symptoms in Shephard in the final confrontation. Let's not forget some hallucinations are possible and with no easy tell tale signs of when reality ends and dreams begin it becomes extremely easy to mislead.
The dream sequences is something that's also shared between my game and Mass Effect 3. They were very important to the storyline and the set up. Thats why it needed to be forced. Why force the player to see something that isn't important anyways? Was this done before in the Mass Effect series?
For my game there needed to be a hint about the main character's connection to the "fictional" world that was being hinted at. So I made the dreams the main character's dreams. Of course plenty of people disliked the dreams till they started to see past the illusion and how the dreams fit in the bigger picture. His dream about being a prince and meeting a daughter of a prophet is remarkably similiar to a story reads in a manga. There is even a hint about gift to her with earrings.
The irony is that when I played Mass Effect 3, I understood their position. "I want to get back to action fast" was the thought that crossed my mind. They must have focused tested this a little as saw that too. So the question is, why force something like those dreams if they didn't offer a large payoff in the story? The hint in the Mass Effect 3 dreams is the final dream where (another) Shepard reaches the boy and burns in flames together as Shepard (you) watches. So if you go with the boy you burn.
Making the (One-Word) Reveal
So then with all this setup, the player has the knowledge needed, yet hasn't connected the dots. Then all that's left is the one word to trigger all the connections to be made at the same time. That one moment where you suddenly realize so much and that you can never see the story the same way again, is something that has to be experienced.
There really isn't a set way to do it other than to make use of a combination of context, the person saying the word, and who they are around. It should effectively point the player into a direction of thinking that will cause all the connections of what they already know snap into place. Hopefully some examples may inspire some ideas.
Performing the Reveal
How does my game do it? The main character discovers the true identity of source of darkness, a girl that talked with at school. Possibily he noticed her cute earrings before and asked about why such a serious and down-to-business girl wears them. She asks the main character to end her life with a powerful spell. With a bit of hesitation the main character agrees. Then the main character starts using a powerful spell he may (or may not) seen before in his manga. Right before he sends the lethal spell to her, she opens her eyes in shock as she recognizes the spell he is casting.
She says one word.
Then she disappears in a magical flash as she utters her last word as she realizes too late.
How Bioware can do the One-Word-Reveal In the DLC
So how can Bioware do it the DLC? Here is one scenario.
After the ending, you see the closest character to Shepard seeing a figure standing on top of a pile of rubble. The figure's eyes glow as the one closest to Shepard has a stunned look on their face. They speak a single word in despair.
Fade to black... end credits...
How Bioware can do the One-Word-Reveal In Real Life
Just in case the above two examples don't fully show the power of a single word and to really drive the point home, here is one last example.
Imagine Casey Hudson, going to a video game event or convention on a panel about Mass Effect 3's Ending.
He sits down there with some of his team members and a tense atmosphere and some disgruntled fans in the audience. Then he speaks a single word.
He and his team stands up and leaves the room calmly without another word.
Imagine the pure media chaos and speculation that could come from this one spoken word! People would be raving about how the "Indoctrination theory" was correct. Video recordings of the event would reach a million views. Most of the people who were opposed to the ending would gladly accept it with open arms! Collection packs of all three Mass Effect games would fly off shelves. It would be insanity!
All that with a single word!
Still a Theory
All in all, it's still just a theory. How close some of the interactive story elements are simliar to my game does raise an eyebrow about the very "meta" aspects of this theory. Nothing is proven yet. We'll have to wait and see.
Adding more to the ending can definately change the perception of it. Even a single word change everyting.